No 1950 Posted by fw, May 3, 2017
Instead of my usual opening passage, excerpted from a selected article, today I have chosen not to do that. And not to add my usual subheadings and highlighted text to the repost. Why the departure?
Because Chris Hedges’ excoriating essay, Reign of Idiots, demands to be read all of a piece, without distractions.
I can image how writing this essay could have been a cathartic experience for the author. – Reading it certainly was cathartic for me.
Curiously, at the same time, while Reign of Idiots moved me, I hungered for something more – for ACTION. But what kind of action would be effective when one is dealing with idiots? Especially American idiots, who control the legislative, judicial, economic, militarized police, and propagandized news powers. What counter-power does a nation divided against itself have? Or is the nation divided? – for, as Hedges sees it: “We are molded into a compliant and repressed collective. This mass conformity is characteristic of totalitarian and authoritarian states.”
The essay brought to mind messages from two other works of genius: one from a scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall; the other from a book, Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics by R. H. Blyth. Both are presented at the end of this post – Allen’s as an embedded video clip, Blyth’s as an excerpted passage.
The repost is below. To read Hedges’ piece on the Truthdig website, click on the following linked title.
The idiots take over in the final days of crumbling civilizations. Idiot generals wage endless, unwinnable wars that bankrupt the nation. Idiot economists call for reducing taxes for the rich and cutting social service programs for the poor, and project economic growth on the basis of myth. Idiot industrialists poison the water, the soil and the air, slash jobs and depress wages. Idiot bankers gamble on self-created financial bubbles and impose crippling debt peonage on the citizens. Idiot journalists and public intellectuals pretend despotism is democracy. Idiot intelligence operatives orchestrate the overthrow of foreign governments to create lawless enclaves that give rise to enraged fanatics. Idiot professors, “experts” and “specialists” busy themselves with unintelligible jargon and arcane theory that buttresses the policies of the rulers. Idiot entertainers and producers create lurid spectacles of sex, gore and fantasy.
There is a familiar checklist for extinction. We are ticking off every item on it.
The idiots know only one word — “more.” They are unencumbered by common sense. They hoard wealth and resources until workers cannot make a living and the infrastructure collapses. They live in privileged compounds where they eat chocolate cake and order missile strikes. They see the state as a projection of their vanity. The Roman, Mayan, French, Habsburg, Ottoman, Romanov, Wilhelmine, Pahlavi and Soviet dynasties crumbled because the whims and obsessions of ruling idiots were law.
Donald Trump is the face of our collective idiocy. He is what lies behind the mask of our professed civility and rationality—a sputtering, narcissistic, bloodthirsty megalomaniac. He wields armies and fleets against the wretched of the earth, blithely ignores the catastrophic human misery caused by global warming, pillages on behalf of global oligarchs and at night sits slack-jawed in front of a television set before opening his “beautiful” Twitter account. He is our version of the Roman emperor Nero, who allocated vast state expenditures to attain magical powers, the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang, who funded repeated expeditions to a mythical island of immortals to bring back the potion that would give him eternal life, and a decayed Russian royalty that sat around reading tarot cards and attending séances as their nation was decimated by war and revolution brewed in the streets.
This moment in history marks the end of a long, sad tale of greed and murder by the white races. It is inevitable that for the final show we vomited a grotesque figure like Trump. Europeans and Americans have spent five centuries conquering, plundering, exploiting and polluting the earth in the name of human progress. They used their technological superiority to create the most efficient killing machines on the planet, directed against anyone and anything, especially indigenous cultures, that stood in their way. They stole and hoarded the planet’s wealth and resources. They believed that this orgy of blood and gold would never end, and they still believe it. They do not understand that the dark ethic of ceaseless capitalist and imperialist expansion is dooming the exploiters as well as the exploited. But even as we stand on the cusp of extinction we lack the intelligence and imagination to break free from our evolutionary past.
The more the warning signs are palpable—rising temperatures, global financial meltdowns, mass human migrations, endless wars, poisoned ecosystems, rampant corruption among the ruling class—the more we turn to those who chant, either through idiocy or cynicism, the mantra that what worked in the past will work in the future, that progress is inevitable.
Factual evidence, since it is an impediment to what we desire, is banished. The taxes of corporations and the rich, who have deindustrialized the country and turned many of our cities into wastelands, are cut, and regulations are slashed to bring back the supposed golden era of the 1950s for white American workers. Public lands are opened up to the oil and gas industry as rising carbon emissions doom our species. Declining crop yields stemming from heat waves and droughts are ignored. War is the principal business of the kleptocratic state.
Walter Benjamin wrote in 1940 amid the rise of European fascism and looming world war:
A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
Magical thinking is not limited to the beliefs and practices of pre-modern cultures. It defines the ideology of capitalism. Quotas and projected sales can always be met. Profits can always be raised. Growth is inevitable. The impossible is always possible. Human societies, if they bow before the dictates of the marketplace, will be ushered into capitalist paradise. It is only a question of having the right attitude and the right technique. When capitalism thrives, we are assured, we thrive. The merging of the self with the capitalist collective has robbed us of our agency, creativity, capacity for self-reflection and moral autonomy. We define our worth not by our independence or our character but by the material standards set by capitalism—personal wealth, brands, status and career advancement. We are molded into a compliant and repressed collective. This mass conformity is characteristic of totalitarian and authoritarian states. It is the Disneyfication of America, the land of eternally happy thoughts and positive attitudes. And when magical thinking does not work, we are told, and often accept, that we are the problem. We must have more faith. We must envision what we want. We must try harder. The system is never to blame. We failed it. It did not fail us.
All of our systems of information, from self-help gurus and Hollywood to political monstrosities such as Trump, sell us this snake oil. We blind ourselves to impending collapse. Our retreat into self-delusion is a career opportunity for charlatans who tell us what we want to hear. The magical thinking they espouse is a form of infantilism. It discredits facts and realities that defy the glowing cant of slogans such as “Make America great again.” Reality is banished for relentless and baseless optimism.
Half the country may live in poverty, our civil liberties may be taken from us, militarized police may murder unarmed citizens in the streets and we may run the world’s largest prison system and murderous war machine, but all these truths are studiously ignored. Trump embodies the essence of this decayed, intellectually bankrupt and immoral world. He is its natural expression. He is the king of the idiots. We are his victims.
Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning,What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.
Let the Revolution Begin
In the context of Chris Hedges’ article, I invite you to make of the following film clip and the book excerpt what you will.
First, this 31-second scene from Woody Allen’s movie Annie Hall, in which Woody’s character, Alvy, explains how to handle Nazis.
Second, this passage from Blyth’s Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics
“WORDS, WORDS, WORDS” – This was Hamlet’s answer to Polonius’ “What do you read, my Lord?”
This “words, words, words” has a deeply tragic meaning in the play. It is, in fact, the secret of Hamlet’s character, the cause of the tragedy. Hamlet is the Zen-less man, whose energy, like a mouse in a wheel, goes round and round inside him and issues, not in action, but in talking. When he does act, as in the killing of boarding of the pirate ship, fighting with Laertes in the grave, the final duel and killing of the king, he acts well, but it is spasmodic, it has no guiding principle in it, leads to nothing, adds difficulties instead of solving them as action should. As the king describes:
O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,
Art more engaged.
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